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A Radically Different Life

This week let's look at Mark 6:7-13 in which Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs to preach his message. I especially love Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message, that said the disciples “preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different…”

As I dove into the passage, walked around in it and looked at different perspectives, I found myself wondering who exactly we are in this passage? I bet we’ve all believed that we’re supposed to be the disciples, which makes us balk a little because who wants to leave all their things behind and go out preaching? We may respect the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their determination to do exactly that, but we’re not looking to do it ourselves!

Then I thought, what if we’re the people whose house they show up at? What if our soul is the door they are knocking on right now to share “with joyful urgency that life can be radically different”? Are we open and willing to listen to the message? Or are we closing the door in the face of this radically new life because we aren’t quite sure what it looks like and we’re not quite sure we want to change anything?

Perhaps the place to start is considering what this radically new life looked like. Given all that we know about Jesus and his teachings, I'd hazard a guess that this life is not about anything we can find outside of ourselves, but is about something that is found inside which then emanates out. I believe this life is based on an understand that God loves all of us unconditionally, and wants us simply to be who we were created to be. This life Jesus offers is one of abundant living, not because one has a lot of stuff, but because one recognizes that stuff doesn't truly matter. This life is centered in God, not in the ego, so there is no drama, no judgment, no anger, no hatred. It is a life of radical inclusion, understanding that God loves all people - regardless of religion, race, color, or sex - and so should we. And, as the disciples show us in this passage, it is a life filled with joy, trust and faith.

Let’s also look more closely at Jesus’ two instructions. First, he tells them, don’t take anything with you, rely on others for food and shelter. This demonstrates a life of humility, a deep trust in the Divine, and visible proof of their faith in God and Jesus. They also aren't afraid to live simply and to rely on the goodness of others.

And, second, Jesus tells them that if they aren't welcomes, they should shake the dust off their feet, or simply shrug their shoulders and move on. I think this is so very important. If people aren't ready to hear what you have to say, it's ok. Accept it and move on, don't judge, don't curse, don't get angry, just let it go. It's not worth putting energy into something that isn't going to change, your energy can be better spent elsewhere.

Actually, this radically different life sounds pretty good to me. So, what holds us back from fully embracing it. Frankly, I think it is our ego. I know I'm way too connected to mine. Threre are times I want to hang on to my sadness, or my anger, or my judgments. Perhaps it makes me feel like I have some sort of power or righteous cause. Sometimes I don't want to forgive, or share, or play nice. Somedays I'm just simply all our of nice. And yet, these are the things that keep me (dare I say "us") from living into the radically different life of peace and joy that is available to us.

It is said that after the Buddha experienced enlightenment, he passed a man on the road who was immediately struck by the Buddha’s appearance. The Buddha had an extraordinary radiance and peacefulness about him. The man stopped and asked the Buddha, “My good friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being, or perhaps a god?”

“No,” said Buddha.

“Well then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?”

“No,” Buddha said again.

“Are you a man?”

“No.”

“Well, my friend, what then are you?”

This time the Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

One of Buddha’s greatest insights was that some people – perhaps too many people - are sleepwalking through life. They live life as if on automatic pilot, going about their days caught up in ego, in fear, in worry, in drama, in emptiness, in desires and expectations. The Buddha’s message has always been “Wake up!” Wake up to a radically different life, a deeper spiritual life. To be awake and aware is the path to a new life that is happier, more joyous, and more enriching. 

Have you heard of a woman named Mildred Norman? Her story reminds me of this story in Mark. Mildred Norman was raised on a farm in Egg Harbor, NJ. As a teenager in the 1920s she was bright, inquisitive, valedictorian, and a materialistic flapper desiring the most fashionable clothing.

After her high school graduation in 1926, finances prevented her from going on to college, so she took secretarial jobs, led an active social life, dated and partied, bought fancy cars and expensive furniture. She also wrote plays for the local theater in which she was director, costume designer, lighting manager and producer. In 1933, she eloped with Stanley Ryder, an unsuccessful businessman, who the family did not approve of. Sadly, the marriage was difficult from the get go.

One night in 1938, as Mildred was struggling to find meaning in her life, she got up and began walking through the woods. She walked almost all night until she came to a clearing where the moonlight was shining down and she suddenly found herself speaking: “If you can use me for anything, please use me. Here I am, take all of me, use me as you will, I withhold nothing.” It was a moment of profound surrender, of willingness to give all of herself to Something More.

For the entire decade of the 1940s, Mildred searched actively for the service she felt she was called to undertake. During this time she worked for multiple peace organizations, such as the Quaker American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission and the United Nations Council of Philadelphia. For a time she worked for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as their Washington, DC peace lobbyist. She divorced her husband (finalized in 1945) when he enlisted in the army against her wishes. They had no children.

During this same period, she began radically simplifying her life. She got rid of unnecessary possessions and frivolous activities. She became a vegetarian, disciplined herself to live on ten dollars a week, and reduced her wardrobe to two dresses. She joined the Endurance Hiking Club, and undertook wilderness treks, to increase her physical strength and to gain experience in simple living. She said that she wanted to practice putting material things in their proper place, “realizing that they are there for use, but relinquishing them when they are not useful.” She wanted to “experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity.”

These years after her prayer to God was also a time of deep inner preparation,  during which she discovered the difference between the willingness to give of herself and the actual giving. She described this period as a time when she was engaged in a great struggle between ego and conscience, or between her “lower, self-centered nature,” and the “higher, God-centered nature.” She believed when she found inner peace and harmony that she would know what she should do next.

It wasn’t until 1952,at age 44, that she began the pilgrimage that would last the rest of her life. In 1953, she left her given name behind, donned a blue tunic with her new identity “Peace Pilgrim” emblazoned upon it, and started walking. The Korean War was under way, and with it the threat of nuclear war was on everyone’s mind. Peace Pilgrim was determined to walk coast to coast for peace. Her vow was to remain a wanderer “until mankind learned the way of peace.”

Her journey lasted 28 years, and some estimate she walked over 43,000 miles walked. She never spent any money, she wore the same clothes every day: blue pants and a blue tunic that held everything she owned: a pen, a comb, a toothbrush and a map. She would walk until given shelter, and fast until given food. She never asked. She believed in the goodness of people and it was always given without her request.

She introduced herself to people as a pilgrim—walking not to a place but for an idea. Her message was a simple one about the way to peace: She said over and over to all who would listen: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” Her definition of peace included peace among nations, and peace among people. But, she told everyone, the most important peace is inner peace. For only with inner peace, she believed, can the other kinds be achieved.

As one biographer noted, Peace Pilgrim seemed to drink from an endless source of energy that she tapped effortlessly in her walks across America, and which she claimed was available to everyone. The source, she said, was her inner peace. She was also in robust health, and said that she never “suffered a cold or an ache” after she found inner peace. She walked with sparkle and verve and a serenity that had no match. Those who met her immediately noticed the sense of calm she conveyed, as though she was free from all burdens. Some even felt that she seemed to live in another dimension. She also had a magnetism that was instantly felt. Combined with her wit, physical stamina and mental discipline, she commanded the admiration of even the most skeptical. Her boundless sense of joy and freedom often disarmed audiences. “Some people think that my life dedicated to simplicity and service is austere and joyless, but they do not know the freedom of simplicity. I am thankful to God every moment of my life for the great riches that have been showered upon me.” Individually, people were moved to change their lives. Thousands were influenced to work for peace, but thousands more were influenced to change themselves and their personal relations. “Begin in your own life, then move out to your surroundings, and finally this will affect institutions,” was her constant message.

Buddha being “awake” drew people to him because they could see the radiance in which he lived. Peace Pilgrim, being “awake” drew people to her, because they felt her calmness and joy. Jesus and the disciples were “awake” and drew people to them. They didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk, and the message they all proclaimed is similar. When you find inner peace, inner connectedness to the Divine, you will know joy and freedom. So, let go of the things that hold you back, your inner “demons” as scripture calls them – I call them things like anger, ego, jealousy, fear, pride, violence, shame, judgment. Let go of your need to cling to those things, to fuel the drama in life, and you will find that the more you clear those things out, the more room you make for peace, joy and love to settle in.

Love & Light!

Kaye